15 posts categorized "Musical"

February 15, 2020

ROCKETMAN

RocketmanHindered by faulty construction and lax editing that tires out the audience long before its two-hour run time passes, “Rocketman” is nonetheless an energetic fantasy version of Elton John’s incredible career in music.

Inspired musical vignettes set to magnificent Elton John songs such as “The Bitch Is Back” or “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” arrive with dance sequences that put “La La Land” to shame. There are times when it feels like the scattershot story gets in the way of the music.

This film’s overall success derives directly from Taron Egerton’s infectious performance as Elton John. His facial expressions deserve their own chapter in the latest book on the craft of film acting. There is magic here.

Rocketman-Taron-Egerton

This picture should serve as Egerton’s break-out feature film role given the vast gifts of physicality, emotional register, and dynamics on display here. You may not be familiar with Taron Egerton from his part in the forgettable “Kingsman” movie franchise, but Egerton’s Elton John blows Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury off the stage. Judging from Egerton’s work here, it seems as if there is nothing this fine British actor cannot, or will not, do.

Rocketman

Jamie Bell elevates his supporting role as Bernie Taupin, Elton’s songwriting partner, to something sublime. Bell matches Egerton note for note, beat for beat, in every scene they share. The effect is mesmerizing. Bryce Dallas Howard fulfills her role as Elton John’s cruel mother Sheila with laser-like precision. It makes you want to see Bryce Dallas Howard in more movies.

Rated R. 121 mins. (B+)

Four Stars

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a bunch pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

December 10, 2016

LA LA LAND

La La Land“La La Land” is a bore. Still, the movie has two very good things going for it, namely Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This duo’s legendary onscreen chemistry (see “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”) reaches emotional highs and lows in counterpoint to a musical fantasy that almost brings home the bacon.

Fear not musical-film-haters, the genre isn’t about to explode with “La La Land” copycats. Gosling and Stone might be great together, but this movie leaves much to be desired. Although the film makes pained efforts to pretend it has the slightest thing to do with Jazz, the soundtrack is more akin to the music you'd find playing under a cartoon Cinderella.

You know you’re in trouble from its mad-mad-world opening song and dance centerpiece, which occurs around and on top of cars stuck in a Los Angeles freeway traffic jam. Squeeze the millennial cheese please. It feels like a Dr. Pepper television commercial from the early ‘80s. The craned-camera sequence has colorfully dressed dancers doing backflips from cars in an attempt to cram as much hoop-la as possible onto the screen. The gaudy 10-minute sequence is more Baz Luhrmann than Bob Fosse. Easily pleased audiences will be sated but this is music video dross. 

The overblown set piece values presentation over representation in a musical that tries too hard and still doesn't earn its stripes. The cheesy champaign-pouring montage looks like it was cut together from B-roll. 

Jazz prodigy boy meets young actress who hates jazz. Red flag. Boy should know better than take up with a Jazz-hater; it will never work out. Besides, Gosling's Sebastian is too meephy for his own good. 

Stone’s actress chic Mia sits in her car, running lines for the movie audition she’s on her way to. Gosling’s brooding jazz pianist Sebastian honks at her to get moving. Fear not, they won’t be enemy rivals long.

Cut to Emma Stone’s struggling Mia going on endless tryouts. She does great acting work — as evidenced in audition bits that show off Stone's acting chops,— but she still doesn’t get any gigs. It’s tough out there, even in writer-director Damien Chazelle’s updated '50s styled L.A. fantasyland. George Lucas's "American Graffiti" would make a natural double-feature choice to go along with this film's fascination with primary colors and squeaky clean surfaces.

Sebastian can’t hold down a regular solo piano gig because he chooses to work at venues that don’t allow him to play the improvisational jazz that excites him. Sebastian thrives on rejection.

Chazelle gives an inside nod to his last film “Whiplash” by casting J.K. Simmons as the disapproving owner of the restaurant that (re) hires and (promptly) fires Sebastian for his wandering fingers on the 88s. The gratuitous casting choice does the movie no favors. Sacha Baron Cohen would have been a better choice to bring some resonance to the part.

La-La-Land2

For all of the colorful costume changes and tightly choreographed dance sequences between Stone and Gosling, “La La Land” meanders when it should glide, and rings with mood-killing alarms that interrupt more than one scene.

“La La Land” is long way from “West Side Story” or “Cabaret” — two great (determinedly tragic) musicals that this film tries to emulate. Chazelle reneges on fulfilling the film’s snappy opening tone of screwball romance. He zigs after establishing he wants to zag. This is this film's fatal flaw. Instead of bookending the joy foreshadowed in its virtuosic opening, the movie ends on a minor chord nostalgia for things to come. Yuck. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. 

Most egregious are two distinct episode involving actual alarms (one is a smoke alarm) that break this film apart. For a filmmaker ostensibly in love with music, these jarring aural events fly in the face of responsible moviemaking. Musicians are notorious for having sensitive ears, and any that I know — myself included — say that these abrasive segments of violent soundscape manipulation are beyond the pale. But don't take my word for it; you'll know what I mean when you hear them. Rather than coming out of this musical humming a tune — the Broadway litmus test for what constitutes a good musical — you will only be thinking of these sustained sonic assaults aimed right at the audience.

Damien Chazelle wants to bring Jazz back into America’s cultural conversation – and for that I commend him — but he unintentionally cheapens the idea with saccharine sentimentality that he mutes with a downbeat ending. Any Jazz musician or fan knows that be-bop’s intrinsic element of syncopation is all about the upbeats. "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing." La La Land doesn't swing. "Hustle and Flow" is a much better musical. 

LA-LA-LAND3

Rated PG-13. 128 mins. (C+) ( Two Stars — out of five / no halves)


COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!

PATREON BUTTON

December 07, 2012

Les Misérables

Les MiserablesAudiences new to Boubil & Schoenberg’s stage musical — based on Victor Hugo’s novel of historical fiction — may be surprised to discover that the wooly narrative isn't as compelling as they imagined it might be.

The era is 19th-century post-revolutionary France. A villainous police inspector [Javert – Russell Crowe] keeps up an inexplicably motivated lifelong vendetta against Jean Valjean (flawlessly played and sung by Hugh Jackman). Valjean spent 19 years slaving away under Javert’s brutality in Toulon prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child. Upon his release, Valjean breaks his parole. When the desperate ex-convict attempts to steal silver from a church, the priest there forgives the arrested Valjean. The man of God goes further. He gives Valjean two expensive silver candlestick holders. Informed of his freshly imposed duty to God, Valjean turns over his life. Eight years later he is mayor to a small French village.

The plot skips through eight-year time lapses. Javert stays hot on Valjean’s trail. The benevolent Valjean adopts Cosette (well played by Isabelle Allen and Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a young woman who perishes as a direct result of Jean’s involuntary response regarding an incident at the factory where she worked. More eight-year leaps and the womanly Cosette falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne) a student revolutionary.

Colesmithey.com

That’s the gist. However, that little synopsis doesn’t reveal how mundane the songs sound — regardless of their bombastic arrangements. Then there’s director Tom Hooper’s filmic tendency to reduce big-spectacle settings into a claustrophobic experience. Extended close-ups of the actors’ faces hitting their notes accumulate toward an audience-distancing effect. The visual impression loses context over time because the audience is left to be fixated on every wrinkle on Anne Hathaway’s lips.

Nonetheless, Hooper’s style works whenever Hugh Jackman is on-screen — which thankfully is much of the time. I can’t think of a more capable or ideal actor who could have given such an exquisite singing and acting performance. Every time the epic story threatens to lull you to sleep, Hugh Jackman snaps you back with his commanding presence in a soul-bearing role.

Colesmithey.com

Tom Hooper’s film version of Les Misérables‬ is an entertaining experience, but you might start to nod off from time to time. The film’s opening shot of hundreds of prisoners pulling a giant ship into dock is worth the price of admission alone. Sacha Baron Cohen adds considerably to the film’s much-needed area of comic relief as Thenardier, a pickpocket innkeeper with an equally skilled wife (played by the ever persuasive Helena Bonham Carter).

All of the ensemble performances are solid, even if Russell Crowe’s effort is forced and stiff. You won’t leave the cinema humming any “memorable tune” from the show. You will, however, have newfound respect for Hugh Jackman. It looks like Daniel Day Lewis does have some competition after all.

Rated PG-13. 157 mins. (B-) (Three stars - out of five/no halves)  


COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!

PATREON BUTTON

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday


Podcast Series